Originally published on whatspeenseen.co.uk
The Underground Clown Club’s latest production sees the collation of 3 one act plays: A Table Set for Two, How to Dance and Safe. Andrew Skipper and Katie Overstall, the company’s founders, have been writing together since 2011 and their plays and poetry have received a fantastic response from the student community at Royal Holloway, University of London. This performance at The Firestation Arts Centre in Windsor was an exciting step into the wider world and the warm reception given by the packed out basement studio should spur the talented duo into further action.
The plays are beautiful and touching but, when dealing with the issues of love, life and loss, it is always difficult to tread that line between over-sentimentality and realistic emotion without occasionally stumbling into the former territory. A Table Set for Two and How to Dance, the earliest plays in the company’s repertoire, definitely suffered from being too sugar-coated in places.
How to Dance has no set place, which is a deliberate choice but was occasionally confusing, and sees four personalities who must deal with “going on their own” – a euphemism for various different character outcomes ranging from an old man saying goodbye to his dying life-partner, to a boy accepting that he has a terminal disease. Something about the language and delivery of this euphemism made me feel uncomfortable; it’s sometimes enjoyable for the audience to be able to deduce messages from subtext rather than having that message spelt out with clichés and unsubtle metaphor. Having said this, I don’t think the writing is entirely to blame – Skipper’s delivery in A Table Set for Two, in particular, was truthful and cringe-free, thus suggesting that the script can be performed with the appropriate tone. It could be that this comfortableness comes from having written the words, which would go some way to explaining why Safe was the stand out piece of the three.
Skipper and Overstall bounced off each other wonderfully as the old, married couple who were settling an insurance claim on their recently fire-damaged property. The characterisations were believable and endearing; I didn’t feel too emotionally manipulated (as was sometimes the case with the predecessors), and there was a perfect balance of humour and poignancy. Joe Feeney (playing the part of a cumbersome, young insurance salesman) provided a suitably lighthearted complement to the bitter-sweetness created by the couple’s unfortunate circumstance.
If this is a sign of what’s to come, you really should keep an eye on The Underground Clown Club; the teething problems found in the first two pieces are nowhere to be seen in their most recent work – and it must be acknowledged that, for such a young company, those teething problems were to be expected and certainly did not compromise my overall enjoyment of the trilogy. It’s fantastic to see hard work paying off for the two graduates and I wish them all the best with their ambitions. With a performance secured at the National Theatre, I have no doubt that we will be hearing more about them in the very near future.
Stars out of 5: ***
Written by Lily Grouse